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Kamala Harris releases executive action plan to protect Dreamers

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

2020 Democratic candidate Kamala Harris released a comprehensive plan Wednesday to protect as many as 6 million immigrants — including a path to citizenship for 2 million Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children.

Why it matters: Harris' proposal, a series of four executive actions she'd implement as president, signals that she wouldn't be afraid to use the power of the presidency to circumvent Congress on immigration.

What she's saying: "Dreamers cannot afford to sit around and wait for Congress to get its act together. Their lives are on the line. As president, while I fight for Congress to pass 21st century immigration reform, I won’t wait," Harris said in a statement.

  • "I’ll take action to lift barriers Dreamers face to pursuing legal status and put them on a meaningful path to citizenship. These young people are just as American as I am, and they deserve a president who will fight for them from day one.”

Details: The plan would make it easier for Dreamers to become U.S. citizens.

  • Harris would reinstate DACA and expand it by extending the two-year protections afforded by DACA to three years, eliminating the rule that Dreamers apply by the time they're 31, lowering the age below 15 to allow people to apply for protection and by changing the deadline for entry into the U.S.
  • She would also create "a deferred action program for parents of citizens or legal permanent residents as well as other law-abiding immigrants with strong ties to their communities," per a senior campaign official.

The four executive actions include the creation of a "Dreamers Parole-in-Place Program," which would formally admit Dreamers to the U.S. by more easily fulfilling the legal mandate that an immigrant must have been "lawfully admitted or paroled" to the country.

  • Another would allow Dreamers to become eligible to apply for legal status — despite the current rule which requires one to have "maintained continuously a lawful status since entry" — because they were brought here through "no fault of [their] own."
    • There is an exception to the rule of maintaining lawful status for immigrants who were unable to do so through "no fault of [their] own," according to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • A third executive action would allow Harris to grant the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to "retroactively grant work authorization to Dreamers."
  • The fourth would expand cases of "extreme hardship" by ruling that family separation counts as an "extreme hardship" when immigrants apply for a green card from another country.
    • According to a senior campaign aide, the current rule states: "If Dreamers choose to leave the country to apply for legal status, their prior 'unlawful presence' in the U.S. bars them from re-entering the country for up to ten years. The DHS Secretary, however, can waive these bars in cases of 'extreme hardship.'"

Go deeper: Kamala Harris on the issues, in under 500 words